STC becomes biggest shareholder in Telefónica with 9.9% stake

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Saudi Telecom Company has decided to spend €2.1 billion to grab a tenth of the shares of Spanish telecoms group Telefónica.

The STC filing states the move was funded by a mixture of STC’s own resources and debt. STC is majority owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, so access to cash or credit is unlikely to be much of a problem. The 9.9% share, half of which is being acquired through ‘financial instruments’, will give STC more than twice the voting rights of the next biggest shareholder.

“This investment is in line with STC’s growth strategy to expand by acquiring stakes in value-added strategic assets in promising markets, along with benefiting from the return on these investments to support STC’s growth, expansion, and capital recycling efforts,” says the STC announcement, under the heading ‘Transaction reasons’. “In turn, these efforts will enhance STC’s ability to invest in new domains and maximize shareholder returns in a sustainable manner.”

Telefónica’s SEC filing on the matter is very short and sweet, acknowledging the details of the transaction and stating “Telefónica takes note of STC’s friendly approach and its support to the management team, Telefónica’s strategy and ability to create value.” There seems to be a case for an Oxford comma in there somewhere.

While it’s impossible to read the minds of the people in charge of STC or the Saudi investment fund, this move seems consistent with a broader range of activity coming from the cash-rich region. STC and Telefónica have been flirting with each other for a while E& recently grabbed 14.6% of Vodafone. Meanwhile Saudi Arabia has been on a major push to own sporting assets, especially in the areas of golf and football.

It will be interesting to see if and when organisations like the European Union have something to say about large stakes in strategically sensitive European companies being snapped up by interests outside the continent. There are certain parts of the world that would presumably be blocked from such a move but relations with the Middle East are apparently very friendly. Having said that, the Spanish government apparently needs to approve this move, so let’s see,


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